The books I found at Cardiff Castle

A couple of days before Christmas, I visited Cardiff Castle to see the Christmas lights and take a look around, as I’ve never been before. It turns out it has a beautiful library stocked with hundreds of old books! There was artwork along the walls, and the bookcases themselves were decorative as well. The fireplace was huge (I wish they had lit it though, it’s hard to keep warm in a castle!) and a rather elegant-looking Christmas tree had been put up. There was also a wedding taking place at another part of the castle and were due to have their drinks in the library, so at the entrance was a table with champagne flutes on top. Safe to say, I have now chosen a venue for my future wedding.

I’ve tried to find the exact names of the editions of the books mentioned (some you aren’t allowed to touch), but unfortunately, I couldn’t find them all. So this post is more of a cry for help than anything tbh :L If anyone knows anything about them, please let me know!

william shakespeare

 

 

When I searched for these Shakespeare editions, Howard Staunton came up many times. The only issue is, there are lots of different Shakespeare collections by this publisher, and these never came up in my searches. Most of the ones that did though were published in the 1800s, and to me, these look like they come from the same era. I couldn’t see the first volume of this collection in the library either.

alfred tennyson

 

 

These books are a twelve-volume set of The Life and Works of Tennyson, published in 1898 by Macmillan & Co. They are incredibly decorated hardbacks, with green cloth and gilt on the spine. It annoyed me how two of the books have been placed the wrong way round!

victor hugo

 

 

Look how beautiful these Victor Hugo books are! I found these on Abebooks, but most of the publishing details on in French, and Google wouldn’t translate the whole page. From what I could work out, these editions feature black and white illustration amongst the text and have a hard leather cover. They were released sometime in the 18th/19th century and published by Ollendorf (?).

jane austen

 

 

I can’t actually find any information about these. At the bottom of the spine it says ‘Edinburgh MCMXI’, which I typed in to Google, and could only find different editions of Austen novels. If anyone knows anything about these, please let me know! I love the blue covers.

charles dickens

 

 

Again, I couldn’t find any info on these books, which are old editions of Charles Dickens. I searched the exact wording that’s on the spines, but nothing. Any ideas?

Review: Coram Boy

SPOILERS AHEAD

Winner of the 2001 Whitbread Award, Coram Boy relates the intertwining stories of Meshak Gardiner and Alexander Ashbrook, two young men of different abilities and backgrounds who nonetheless find their fate inextricably linked. Meshak, the mentally handicapped son of Otis Gardiner, helps his father dispose of unwanted children; generally infants whose mothers think that Mr. Gardiner will transport them to Coram Hospital, a newly-created facility to care for abandoned children. Able to convince the distraught mothers that their newborns will be well-cared for in exchange for a small fee, Mr. Gardiner later hands the infants over to Meshak, who then buries the children in the woods. Years of burying infants and selling older ones into slavery have made Mr. Gardiner rich, but one day he is accused of blackmailing the wealthy mothers of these children. Everyone believes that he was hanged for his crimes and that his son, Meshak, quietly slipped away. Not until years later do people realize what happened to the Gardiners and all of the abandoned children.

***

Historical fiction is my favourite genre. I’ve always been fascinated with history, and so reading stories that allow me to live the lives based upon past events excites me so much. I’m currently writing a historical fiction novel myself, and for the setting, I’ve been inspired by the Forest of Dean, my home, and its surrounding areas. Coram Boy takes place in Gloucester as well as London, so it was nice to read a book of this genre that’s set in the same county as mine. I could see how Jamila Gavin captured two 18th century cities, both of which were clearly researched in meticulous detail, in their dirtiest light, exploring the lives of the lower classes instead of just focusing on the more privileged.

One of the things that stood out for me was the character of Meshak. He is described as a ‘simpleton’ and is treated poorly throughout the novel, particularly by his father. He has a strong moral compass, even though there are times when it becomes a bit warped (trying to keep Aaron from his parents to protect his ‘angel’s’ son, for example). He is plagued by the voices of the children that he buries, feeling guilty over the fact that he didn’t save them. Gavin capture this with chilling sentences like ‘He feels the need to be dead.’ For a boy as young as Meshak to think something like this is just heartbreaking.

While the story is told through an omniscient narrator, the majority of the events are experienced through the children’s perspective, which, in a way, makes some of the horrific events seem worse. When Meshak sees black slaves, for example. ‘It was human, wasn’t it? He licked his finger and smoothed it over the baby’s skin to see if the black would come off.’ The way that this baby is alienated because of his skin colour is shocking, and the way that Meshak innocently rubs him with his finger to see if the colour would come off shows the severity of the racism during this period.

Racism is also explored through Toby, a black orphan and Aaron’s best friend. Toby’s treatment at Mr. Gaddarn’s party is exceptionally saddening, as ‘the ladies adored him, and loved to bounce him on their knees, feed him sweets, and push their fingers under his turban to feel his extraordinarily crinkly hair.’ I never knew that black children were hired to be poked and prodded simply for entertainment during this time period, and, to say the least, it was appalling.

The characters of Alex and Thomas are two of my favourites in this novel. They both come from different worlds and yet are united through their love of music. I felt so sorry for Alex, as his father forbids him to follow his passion. I have to say though; there were times when I forgot Alex’s age and thought him as older, so the times when I was reminded of his age completely changed my image of him.

I also felt this way with Melissa, who, at the start of the book, is fourteen years old. She acts her age at the beginning, from joining in with her sibling’s games and experiencing her first period, but then also sleeps with Alex and gets pregnant. I could not imagine characters as naive as these having sex. Also, the fact that Melissa was able to conceal her entire pregnancy and birth is hard to believe tbh. There were moments when her youth was highlighted, such as when she thought she could raise her child at home without her parents noticing, not realising how noisy a baby could be, her focus on knitting cute little clothes for it. Not to mention her reaction to her growing ‘roundness’ and her disbelief when her maid informed her of her pregnancy. If anything, moments like this made it so much harder for me to believe this subplot.

I enjoyed Coram Boy, mainly because of the amount of history intertwined in this novel. Gavin covers a range of diverse perspectives when it comes to 18th century London, allowing the reader to explore this world in so many different ways. It’s a dark book that features some appalling attitudes amongst the characters, and Gavin conveys their beliefs in such a gripping way that you can’t help but feel shocked at some of the events. Aside from the issues regarding ages, I think this novel is beautifully written and an incredible read for both adults and children.

7 books that are on my Christmas list

I’ve got quite a few books on my Christmas list this year, and it’s getting longer and longer. By the time I’ve published this post, it’s probably grown even more. So here are my top seven at the moment; if I don’t get them for Christmas (which, considering the length of the list, is quite likely!), then I shall certainly be making a trip to Waterstones very soon.

The Penguin Classics book

 Image from  Penguin Random House
Image from Penguin Random House

This book explores literary history, from Ancient Greece, Japanese poetry, War stories and more. I love reading classic literature, and this looks like it’s filled with inspiration for my next reading slump.

The Librarian – Salley Vickers

Any book that is set in a library appeals to me. I want to read this one in particular because it takes place in the 1950s, and I can’t ever remember reading a book set in that decade. I want to see the differences in attitudes towards reading, and I’m also intrigued by the exploration of what children’s literature has on us. It sounds like a wonderfully bookish adventure, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

I’d Rather Be Reading – Ann Bogel

A book can have so many effects on you, and it can stay with you for weeks, even years. Bogel captures these moments, as well as many others that a reader experiences. She explores the feeling of your first book, finding a book that you love and finding one that you hate. It encourages you to reflect on the effect that books have on your life, and I think it’s the perfect book for an avid reader.

The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

 Image from  Waterstones
Image from Waterstones

After reading Circe, I’ve been keeping my eye out for mythological-based novels, as it’s a new genre that I’ve never really read before. I find Greek myths and legends so interesting, and reading them imagined is just as fascinating. I especially love the idea of the legends being retold through a woman’s perspective, as these stories feature many well-known, iconic women that we don’t know much about. The Silence of the Girls, described as a ‘feminist Iliad,’ where Barker places the female goddesses at the heart of the story, which I’m incredibly intrigued by and can’t wait to read.

The Dark Artifices: The Queen of Air and Darkness – Cassandra Clare

The Mortal Instruments is one of my favourite book collections ever, as are the many other Shadowhunter novels that Clare has released. The Queen of Air and Darkness is the latest addition to The Dark Artifices, and I’ve been waiting for this book for so long. Julian and Emma have become one of my favourite fictional couples, and I have become so engrossed in many of the other characters that I’m somewhat scared to see what happens at the end of this novel, especially after Livia’s death in the last book.

Little Women (Clothbound Classic edition) – Louisa May Alcott

I bought this book recently, and I loved it. However, it turns out it ends at the end of part one and does not include Little Wives, the rest of the story. Penguin’s Clothbound Classic edition has both parts one and two, so I need to get it soon to finish what I started. As well as this, it’s been a while since I added to my growing collection of Clothbound Classics, so this book will solve this problem.

The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman

 Image from  The Folio Society
Image from The Folio Society

I’ve seen The Golden Compass but never read the books. I’ve always wanted to, just never got round to it. I’m currently meeting up with someone who’s writing a novel, and she told me that Pullman’s style of writing influenced her. This comment reminded me of The Amber Spyglass, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since. So now I am determined to get a copy and read it. (The Folio Society have a beautiful set of all three books, but they’re over £100! 😦 Currently looking out for different editions, although they all seem to pale in comparison!)

A Christmassy time in Bath

Bath is probably my favourite city that I’ve been to. I love its appearance and the fact that it’s full of creative people. The coffee shops aren’t bad either! It’s also known for its Christmas Market, and it isn’t hard to see why. With over 200 chalets, fake snow drifting over Southgate and a variety of carol singers, it’s hard not to get into the Christmas spirit.

I returned to Bath for two days to see the market, as well as some of my favourite places. I left feeling excited and Christmassy, a little nostalgic as well.

So, because I’m not quite finished with Bath yet, here’s a few of the places we visited.

Boston Tea Party

The entire two days were pouring down with rain, so when my boyfriend and I arrived, we hurried to one of my favourite coffee shops – Boston Tea Party. We visited the one on Alfred Street as it’s larger. I ordered the Raspberry Mallow Hot Chocolate, part of their festive menu, and my boyfriend had a mocha. And we both ordered brownies, as BTP’s brownies are the best, no question. The hot chocolate was incredible! The marshmallow-base made it thick, and it wasn’t too sweet either. I’ve never had anything from BTP’s Christmas menu before, but if they’re all as good as that hot chocolate, then I’m definitely going back for more.

Topping & Company

Bath has plenty of bookshops, which is one of the reasons why I love it. My favourite has to be Topping & Company. It’s jam packed with books, plus wheelie ladders to help you reach the top. They offer hot drinks while you browse, and sell signed editions of some of their books. I found a signed edition of The Penguin Classic Book, which is on my Christmas list! There was also a beautiful edition of Black Beauty that I found and was so tempted to buy. We sheltered from the rain in here, with a pot of Earl Grey and coffee.

The market

The market is spread throughout the streets of Bath, lights glowing in the evening sky. The chalets range from homeware to skincare, cheese to chocolate. Obviously, the latter two were my highlights. I bought two boxes of brownies from Chatley, vanilla fudge and honeycomb. The honeycomb brownies are incredible (I’m eating them now while writing this!), they are so chewy (the best type of brownie) and have large chunks of honeycomb, in each piece.

I also tried my first Baileys hot chocolate. I’ll admit it wasn’t my favourite; I didn’t understand the hype. At first, all I tasted was the burning taste of alcohol, but after a while, it calmed down, and the thick chocolate flavour took over. I did enjoy that part, but wouldn’t necessarily repurchase.

There was a beautiful stall, Meticulous Ink, that sold wax seals, bookmarks and fountain pens, to name a few. The woman running the stall was lovely, and I bought a beautiful bookmark based around Oscar Wilde. She has a store on Walcot Street, and I’m going to visit next time in Bath.

As expected at a Christmas market, we sampled a variety of vodkas (and my boyfriend tried quite a bit of gin as well), a chocolate flavoured one was my favourite. One of my highlights was that my twenty-six-year-old boyfriend, four years older than myself, got ID’d, had no ID, and so was not allowed to try any. More for me I guess?

Cosy Club

I went to Cosy Club so many times during uni. It is so sophisticated – expensive but worth the money. The cocktails are amazing, and the food is to die for. The staff are always cheery; you can’t leave here in a bad mood!

We came here for breakfast (although by the time we got there it was more lunch) and had the shakshuka, which is one of my favourite items on the menu. It’s warming and comes with toast, the perfect thing for a cold morning. Accompanied by excellent coffee, of course

Marina Cottage

A quick note on our b&b, Marina Cottage. Although we didn’t spend much time there, it was amazing. Underfloor heating, a breakfast bar, and books! There were little bookshelves next to the sofas with old editions of Penguin Classics. Including Wuthering Heights! I was so excited, and I hope to stay there again so that I can have more of a good read.

There was also a dishwasher, and the kitchen was stocked with tea, coffee and fresh milk in the fridge. It wasn’t adjourning any other building which was lovely, and we had two floors that we didn’t have to share.

Bath is still one of my favourite places to go, and I hope to return soon. Also, I’ll be visiting the market next year…hopefully (fingers crossed!).

The Diary of a Bookseller: my perfect bookshop

Where I live, there aren’t really a lot of options when it comes to bookshops. There was one, The Forest Bookshop, but that closed down, and other than that it’s just libraries. But even then they don’t have the greatest stock. Each city near me has a Waterstones which I love, but it’s not the same as an independent store full of hidden gems.

When I moved to Bath, I fell in love with the number of bookshops that I found. Topping & Company is my favourite, books of every genre imaginable, signed editions, events, all complete with a cup of tea to drink while you browse. It is the closest to my perfect bookshop that I’ve found so far.

I recently read The Diary of a Bookseller, and it got me thinking about what it’d be like to own a bookshop. How big would it be? Would it be second-hand, which genres would it sell? What would it look like?

I’ve written down some of the key characteristics that my bookshop would have, but I’m pretty sure they’ll change over time. Right now though it sounds like the perfect place for me to be right now, so warm and cosy and, of course, filled with books!

Tea and coffee station

There is a well known quote, ‘The secret to a well balanced life is a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other’, and it’s fair to say that no truer words have been spoken here. I want my bookshop to feel cosy and inviting, and the ultimate way to welcome someone is with a hot beverage. Served in the prettiests cups, all mix and match and related to books one way or another, in a variety of sizes (the biggest mugs will always be used for hot chocolates, served with cream and marshmallows, obviously) with a few biscuits or chunks of chocolates. Teapots for tea, and cafetieres for coffee.

Unless it’s a latte, in which case it shall be made with the most instagrammable coffee art ever.

Armchairs

One cannot be expected to walk around trying to carry a handful of books and a hot drink in my bookshop. Soft armchairs complete with throws will be dotted throughout the store.

A fireplace

I’m that type of person who is always cold, and so a fireplace is essential. My bookshop would be quite big, so there will be some heaters here and there as well, but the main space will have an extravagant fireplace to keep my bookshop warm. There wouldn’t be any music, so the crisp snap of a blazing fire will add to the cosy atmosphere. And it can easily be decorated for celebrations, like a wreath at Christmas or ‘cobwebs’ at Halloween.

Ladders

My bookshop will have more books than anyone can imagine, and visitors will need to reach them all.

One of my favourite scenes from Beauty and the Beast is when Belle is in the bookshop on a wheelie ladder that glides along the shelves. I think having a few of those will be perfect in my shop, and I’m sure bookworms would be very excited to see them. It adds a fun aspect to my bookstore.

Second hand books

My bookshop would consist of both new and used books. Even though I’m not a fan of used books myself just because I don’t like folded pages, creased bindings, etc, I love the idea of a book being passed from person to person in its life. And I don’t write in my books, but sometimes seeing other people’s annotations can be cool, especially if it has some sort of meaning.

Plus, coming from someone who has way too many books, second hand bookshops are a great way to get rid of books that you don’t have room for, so I’d love to help people clear their shelves!

Book recommendations

I love book recommendations. When it comes to finding a new read, blurbs aren’t helpful. I prefer it when someone says to me ‘If you like so-and-so, you’ll love this book!”. I’d have little signs or posters dotted around, swapping them regularly for different books. I’d also include one in every online newsletter that I’d write (Customers can sign up to them so they can hear about the bookish events I’d hold!).

Open from early in the morning until late in the evening

I’m talking maybe 8am-10pm. I remember at Bath leaving work at 6pm and everything would be closed. For those who have busier lives than me, how do they find time to run to their local bookshop? Plus, imagine spending a cold winter evening sat in a bookshop, next to the fire surrounded by endless cups of tea and books. I’d never leave.

Now that I have a plan, I just need to win the lottery to get the ball rolling.

Do you ever consider running a bookshop? What would it be like? What are your favourite stores to visit?